A lot of major websites are taking themselves offline today, or at least changing their logos in protest.  We here at Brian Johns Photography World Headquarters are not altering the website, but we still want to raise awareness of the issue. PIPA and SOPA are toxic to to the culture of user generated content on the Internet and here's why:  SOPA means that if a user uploads somebody else's copyrighted content to a website, the website can be liable for extreme damages.   If SOPA/PIPA are enacted, websites that rely on user-uploaded content will have to either strictly police every single upload (which probably isn't possible) or change how they do business.

The main proponents of SOPA/PIPA are the big media conglomerates which love to sue people out of business.   You can see how this would stifle the online creativity and sharing.  Most "2.0" style websites would probably have to shut down and small companies with no legal staff would be foolish to start up.

How does this affect Brian Johns Photography?   Well, we don't accept user uploaded content here, so I don't have to worry about that.   In fact, this law might even be good for us in the short term - let's say a website posts a photo of mine without permission.   I could theoretically take over the domain as punishment!

So why are we opposed to it?   It's the principle of the thing.   I support every single SOPA/PIPA protest action I've seen today and I encourage you to learn more about the issue and express your opinion on it.

Mac Pro: not enough ports!

I'm moving my desk and computer around which means disconnecting the entire thing and reconnecting it in another room. So this is a fine time to think about the design of the Mac Pro, as it relates to ports on connectivity. There are some real nice features of the machine but a few disappointments. As usual with Apple products, remedying the downsides would be trivial and cheap so we must assume that Apple just didn't think about these things, or thought about them but decided they knew better than us how a machine should be designed. I should start off by clarifying that I'm talking about the Mac Pro desktop - not a laptop, and not a lower cost machine. This is the big machine that people buy when space, weight, power consumption, and cost are no issue. People buying this machine want the best, most powerful, most flexible machine available and they're will to pay over $3,000 to get it. Also, they're probably Apple fans.

First the good points:

  • USB and firewire ports on the front and back. I love the ports on the front, for things that I attach for short periods of time. Way better than having to reach around to the back of the machine for a quick connection.
  • Four internal drive bays. This is great for expandability. I'm using one bay for the boot drive and two bays for a striped RAID for performance. I use the fourth bay when I'm building up a new boot drive, which I do whenever a new major version of Mac OS comes out.
  • Two optical bays. This would be great for me if I cared enough to have a second optical drive. It costs less than $100 but I've only ever needed two at one time once. I REALLY like that you can install a SSD boot drive up there and regain another regular drive bay if you have lots of cash and need more space. I don't do this, but check out Diglloyd's Mac Performance Website for more info about that.
  • Lots of PCI slots. Now that more applications are taking advantage of GPU coprocessing I should get off my duff and buy a modern video card. It'll make some things in Photoshop faster, apparently. I like that I can put a few video cards in there and have a ton of monitors because often screen space is worth more than CPU speed.

Now let's talk about what I don't like.

  • Not enough USB ports! I generally have the following USB devices connected to my desktop Mac:
    • keyboard
    • mouse
    • Wacom tablet
    • HP printer/scanner/fax
    • Canon photo printer
    • docking station for Garmin bike computer

    That's six items that I would prefer to connect to the back, but there are only 3 ports. Yes, I can buy a powered hub but I'd prefer not to. It's one more thing to plug in and a ton more wires.

  • No balanced audio. I'd like to see balanced audio in and out. I'm talking 1/4" TRS or XLR ports, which are industry standard on professional audio equipment. I realize there's optical audio in and out but the things I'd like to connect to (a Mackie mixing board, or my home stereo) don't have optical.Yes, I could buy an external firewire sound module with tons of balanced ins and outs, but a basic stereo in and out is all I'm asking for. I've never heard anyone else bitch about this so perhaps I'm the only one who misses this.

That's about it. I'm very happy with the machine overall. It's a lot faster than my laptop and I love working with the full size mouse and keyboard, as well as multiple monitors. The built-in RAID stripe is big and fast with no external cables which is really nice.

I'm just sayin' that there could be a few more ports on it, that's all.

Lightroom "plug-ins" are not really plug-ins

Sorry for the quick entry without all the hyperlinks I normally put in, but I'm about to have breakfast in Hawaii and I just wanted to get this off my chest. First off, let me say that I'm a huge Lightroom fan. I use it for almost everything.   I'm thrilled that Adobe has made it easier to use Lightroom with third-party software through their "plug in" architecture.  I use Photomatix myself and I like the ease of integration.

But these so-called "plug ins" are not really plug ins - they're more like "export presets".  You select an image (or images) in Lightroom, select "Edit In Photomatix", and then Lightroom renders TIFFs of your images and sends them to Photomatix, and then imports the resulting TIFF that Photomatix creates.  I presume the newly announced Nik Silver Efex "plug in" does the same thing.

But what if you want to change something about the source image?   What if you want to change the crop, or do some dust removal, etc?  Then you've got to start from scratch with the plug in with your new source images.

I'd really like to have a true mechanism for adding new functionality to the develop module in Lightroom.  I wonder how the layer/plugin architecture of Photoshop could be re-used to pull something like this off.

How some people use flickr...

It has come to my attention that some people use flickr as the primary repository for their pictures.  Then, for some reason or another (warranted or unwarranted) flickr closes their account and they apparently lose access to all of their photos.  And then they blog about how flickr closed their account and they have no other copies of these photos. People use flickr to store their only copies of a photo? Why would you do this?   Come on people, get some self-reliance...

Working for Free - Photography is not Plumbing

There's been a huge discussion going on recently on The Interwebs about photographers working for free.  Big-time bloggers like David Hobby (of Strobist), Vincent Laforet, Chase Jarvis, and John Harrington are all talking about it right now due to a post by David Hobby last week, but the discussion has been going on for a couple years, including this big post by Matt Brown on SportsShooter.com. Matt is a photographer whose thoughts I'm especially sensitive to because we both shoot for Cal Poly Football and Basketball and I wouldn't want to be doing anything to jeopardize the work he gets from them.  (As an aside, I caught a glimpse of Matt on TV on the sidelines of the UCLA/USC game yesterday...)

The main argument comes down to whether it's "OK" to do photography for free and what the effects of that are on you, your clients, the industry, Western Society, etc.   On one hand you've got David Hobby putting forth four reasons why you should consider working for free.  On the other end of the spectrum there's John Harrington who reasons that working for free will destroy your career, put other photographers out of business, make you a horrible person, and maybe worse.

I'm not going to weigh in on the discussion other than to say that working for free has it's place (especially when trying to get your foot in the door) but isn't a long-term business model.   I shoot for some clients for free.  There are other jobs I would never take for free.  (I turned down a free job offer just last weekend, because it involved too much travel.)  But one argument that always seems to come up that you could never call a plumber and tell them that your toilet was clogged and would they please come over and clean it up for free and therefore, photographers shouldn't ever work for free either.

I love that argument, because its so ridiculous.  I've got news for you: taking pictures is a lot more fun than cleaning up poop, and that's why there's a steady stream of people willing to try it for free.  I'm a firm believer in the law of supply and demand and the recent explosion in the popularity of photography means there's a huge glut of people wanting to try it.  If you're a professional photographer lamenting all these damn newcomers to the industry, all I can say is that if you can't actually differentiate yourself from the amateurs then you probably have a problem.

There are lots of ways a pro can differentiate their work from that of the newcomer:

  • the quality of the final product (this seems first and foremost)
  • being able to handle large or complex projects
  • professionalism when dealing with the client (invoices, quotes, business insurance, someone to answer the phone during the day, etc.)
  • availability for jobs when hobbyists might be at their 9-5 day job
  • the ability to be there in the future

and so on.  I don't think we're in danger of pros losing their ability to make money, due to the fact that there are always people that are going to need the level of service that a professional photographer can provide.

Final Thought: In computer science, there's a long transition of giving away perfectly good work for free.  The entire open-source software movement is proof of that.   I wonder how that affects the philosophy of computer nerds who go into photography...

Adobe continues install stupidity in CS4?

According to this Hardmac.com rumor, Adobe's installer is STILL refusing to install the Creative Suite on case-sensitive file systems.  This is an issue that bit me hard earlier this year when I had to reinstall my Mac just to install CS3.  According to the same page Adobe is also disabling installs on SSD drives (flash drives, Solid State Drives, etc.) So if you just bought a MacBook Pro with the Solid State storage option to make a rough, tough, shock-resistant traveling photo editing station, you're out of luck!

It would be nice to see some sort of in-depth explanation from Adobe about why these limitations exist.  Combined with the superficial crappiness of the Adobe Installer (and updater) apps, little gotchas like this just make Adobe look bad.  The install is one of the worst parts of the Adobe experience - at least give us a little info so we don't feel like you're just doing it to us for the fun of it!

Does anyone out there know why these limitations exist?